You have to wonder when New Mexico's state legislators will realize that they're being lied to and put an end to it.
The biggest lie that has been pushed for the past several years is that police departments around the state are having a really hard time recruiting and keeping officers and that they are incredibly understaffed.
That's simply not true, and it's a lie that has been spread mostly by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and the Albuquerque Police Department. As everyone knows, APD has been chronically understaffed for the past several years. Critics say that's the result of horrible policies by Berry and company.
The latest legislator to buy into the lie is House Speaker Brian Egolf, who says he and his Democratic colleagues will spend the upcoming 30-day legislative session trying to find ways to help New Mexico police departments hire more cops.
Presumably, he'll try to throw money at the non-existent problem.
So before Egolf wastes time trying to solve a non-existent problem, he should read the results of a survey ABQReport columnist Dan Klein, a retired APD sergeant, did last year of the state's 102 police agencies.
The survey showed that the state's police department's were collectively staffed at 90.3 percent of the officers they were budgeted for.
The only department with real staffing problems was APD.
The results of Klein's survey were similar to one he did in 2015.
So we're republishing Klein's 2016 survey results in the hopes that Egolf and other lawmakers will actually get the facts and not be fooled by panic mongers.
Here's Klein's story from September 2016:
BY DAN KLEIN
New Mexico's police departments aren't having much of a problem hiring and keeping police officers. According to a new survey, the state's 102 police agencies are collectively staffed at 90.3 percent of the officers they're budgeted for.
Seventy-nine departments are 90 to 100 percent staffed, the survey showed.
As a whole, the 102 police departments are budgeted for 4,920 officers, and they have 4,446 officers on their staffs. ABQ Free Press queried all 112 police agencies in the state. But, 10 of those departments have been absorbed into other agencies.
When the cadets that the departments have in the state's police academies are included, the staffing percentage increases. But it's difficult to calculate the exact percentage because some departments count their cadets as sworn officers, and others don't. The 90.3 percent figure was based only on sworn officers.
Either way, the staffing levels don't point to a hiring and retention crisis among police departments that Mayor Richard J. Berry and others have said exists. And the results mirror those of a survey the newspaper did in October 2015 of 70 police agencies. At that time, county sheriff's offices were collectively staffed at 91 percent, and cities, with the exception of Albuquerque, were at 93 percent.
New Mexico's poor economy and changes to the state pension plan appear to be reasons that departments aren't having much trouble hiring and keeping officers. The poor economy has helped the Rio Arriba County Sheriff's Department recruit and retain officers. Police jobs offer long-term security and good benefits, including pensions. RACSD Captain Robert Sanchez explained that the state’s struggling economy has helped his agency get to a 100 percent staffing level with a waiting list for future hires. “Many of our deputies want to stay in their home towns, and police work allows them to do this. They don’t want to have to move to find work,” Sanchez said.
In 2013, the state Legislature passed comprehensive pension reform for the Public Employee Retirement Association. PERA Executive Director Wayne Probst said the reform increased the maximum pension benefit for all PERA members, including public safety officers, from 80 percent to 90 percent of their final average salary in retirement. It means that municipal police officers who work five years beyond their first retirement eligibility after 20 years of service could see an increase in their lifetime PERA benefits of as much as $600,000. That's a big reason officers are putting off retirement, Probst said.
Other departments are using federal grants to increase their numbers. The Las Cruces Police Department saw its budget for officers increase from 181 in 2015 to 200 in 2016. Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya said he had planned ahead and applied for a federal COPS grant. He anticipated that he would get the grant, which would add an additional 20 officers to the department, so he began aggressively recruiting new officers. As soon as he got the grant he was ready to hire the additional officers.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, the third largest police agency in the state, has been fully staffed for two consecutive years.
Nine departments were staffed at between 70 and 89 percent. Four of those were between 88 and 89 percent staffing, and by hiring one more officer they would all be in the 90 percent range.
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said that since the July 1, 2015 merger with the Department of Public Safety, NMSP has had an authorized strength of 745 officers. NMSP currently has 670 officers, a staffing level of 90 percent. The NMSP is currently hiring for a large academy class set to start in December.
Albuquerque Police Department (83 percent) spokeswoman, Celina Espinoza said APD has 833 full-time sworn police officers. They hope to graduate 31 more officers in December. That would raise the department's staffing level to 864 officers, or 86 percent of its authorized strength. APD is also recruiting 25 lateral officers to attend a shortened academy in November. Lateral officers are already certified officers and thus are counted as sworn once hired. If APD does hire the 25 laterals, the department would have 889 officers (89 percent) by the end of this year.
APD has a lot of “ifs,” but in 2015 it held three police academy classes, graduating approximately 100 new officers. APD could reach it's budgeted strength of 1,000 officers by late 2017.
Berry made a stir in the 2016 Legislative session when he threatened to raid other departments for officers if his return-to-work bill for retired officers didn’t pass. It didn’t pass, and if all 25 laterals come from other agencies within New Mexico, that would amount to 0.56 percent of the current number of police officers employed statewide.
The Raton Police Department is budgeted for 14 officers and currently has 10, giving it the worst staffing level in the state at 71 percent. The Taos PD is budgeted for 24 officers and employs 18, for a 75 percent staffing rate. Police chiefs for the two departments didn't return messages asking why their staffing levels were low.
Fourteen departments in the state were budgeted for nine or fewer officers. Those agencies all had vacancies of one or two officers. Because they are so small, any vacancy will dramatically drop their staffing rate.
One New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy instructor said there's a reason that training academies across the state are full. “Law enforcement in New Mexico offers good benefits and pay, while allowing people to stay in their community,” the instructor said. “It’s a win-win for the officer and the community they serve.”
Number of agencies surveyed: 112
Number of agencies that no longer have a police department: 10
Number of budgeted officers: 4,920
Number of offices employed: 4,446
Number of departments staffed at 90 percent to 100 percent: 79
Number of departments staffed at 88 percent to 89 percent: 4
Number of departments staffed at 70 percent to 87 percent: 5
Number of departments budgeted for 9 or less officers: 14
Top Three Departments Budgeted and Actual and Academy cadets
APD: 1,000 budgeted; 833 filled; 31 cadet graduate December
BCSO: 332 budgeted; 328 filled; 20 in current academy
NMSP: 745 budgeted; 670filled; new academy starts in December